What’s cooking? Valentino Gentile, head chef at The White Horse
The head chef at The White Horse in Hascombe reveals his top kitchen secrets, including the ingredient he loves most.
Italian-born Valentino Gentile is head chef at The White Horse pub in Hascombe. He moved to England when he was 17, found work in a kitchen and worked his way up from there. Over the years he’s worked at 1907 at Brooklands Hotel, at the legendary La Luna in Godalming (first as sous chef, later as head chef) and as head chef at Tante Marie in Woking.
Your first job (in a kitchen)?
At 16 I started my first job as a kitchen porter in a large restaurant (up to 500 covers a day). Unfortunately for me, there was no dishwasher and everything had to be hand washed!
There are definitely two that stand out for me. Winning 2AA rosettes back in 2008 at La Luna in Godalming, and being awarded the Surrey Life Chef of the Year award in 2019.
Sum up your cooking style / food philosophy?
I try not to overcomplicate flavours and let good quality ingredients speak for themselves. As a chef, your job starts with the sourcing of the right ingredient.
I was born and lived in Italy until 17 and therefore always relate to those flavours, but I have now lived in England for 23 years, therefore I am comfortable at getting the best out of the wonderful ingredients that are produced here.
I also love foraging, and I get a great deal of satisfaction when completing the “full circle” with an ingredient … as well as taking full advantage of having some well needed quiet time between services.
Most memorable moment at work?
Being gifted a personalised, signed Cavani shirt (one of my footballing heroes) by Ed Woodward (the chief executive at Manchester United) in person.
Ever cooked for anyone famous?
I have cooked for a few over the years: The actress Julie Walters and the musician Bruce Foxton (The Jam) are regulars at the pub. Other famous people I have cooked for are Brian May (I am a huge Queen fan), Eric Clapton, Chris Evans, Ed Woodward, Davina McCall … and probably a few more.
Your biggest mistake at work?
What’s a mistake?!
You’re tired, starving and impatient: what do you cook for dinner?
My go-to is a pasta dish with pancetta, broccoli, garlic and chilli. It is ready in the time it takes to cook pasta, it’s extremely tasty and my children love it every time.
What would you cook to impress a date?
I would probably try to impress with my pasta making skills as well as featuring plenty of seafood!!
Alfonso Iaccarino. He is a 2 Michelin-star chef from the Campania region in the south of Italy. I love the relationship that his dishes have with his terroir and he has the most amazing and freshest produce at hand.
“Under Pressure” by Thomas Keller, owner and head chef at The French Laundry in the Napa Valley in California.
It’s a fantastic book on sous vide cooking that I have taken a lot of inspiration from. And it has the title of my favourite Queen song.
Favourite type of cuisine?
I don’t think you can beat Italian cuisine (I might be a little bit biased) although over the years I have experimented a lot with various types of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. I love discovering new ingredients and techniques all the time!
Favourite kitchen gadget?
It has to be my Thermomix. I have had one of these machines for 14 years and I simply couldn’t imagine myself in a kitchen without it, whether at work or at home!!
Favourite local café? Restaurant? Hotel?
My family and I do enjoy going to a restaurant near where we live, it’s called Roots and they make the most amazing sourdough pizza.
Your three favourite local markets and suppliers?
A lot of our seasonal vegetables and salads come from Secrett’s Farm at Milford, If I am in need of inspiration, I like to stop at Amy Lou’s grocery store in Godalming before coming to work. Our meat comes from John Murray Butcher in Loxwood.
Favourite things to eat when you’re on holiday?
Anything that the locals eat. While on holiday I have always had the best meals when away from the obvious touristy places.
What mistake do inexperienced cooks tend to make?
We live in the world of social media where we can all get influenced by the latest trends and we are bombarded by pictures of great looking dishes. I have seen a few chefs trying to use the latest trends and techniques without having first mastered the basics…. If you want to build a house, you’re going to have to start with the foundations!
Favourite ingredient and why?
It has to be Ceps. I love cooking with them but most of all I absolutely love foraging them.
Most over-rated dish / ingredient?
Grouse. I love it as an ingredient but unfortunately it is always incredibly expensive to buy for what you get.
The dish you’re most proud of creating?
I once created a dessert that looked like a miniature wooden fruit crate. It was a very realistic looking effort….and since pastry isn’t a strong point of mine, I was very happy with the result.
Three dishes every home cook should master?
- A basic bread – although I think most people have already mastered this over the various lockdowns!!!
- A good curry….or three.
- A good silky risotto.
Loads of us are really bored of our own cooking right now – any advice?
It is easy for us all to fall back on our own repertoire. I would definitely recommend visiting your local green grocer, fishmonger or butcher to get inspired by new ingredients!